From left, Tito Imanda, Lisabona Rahman, Ekky Imanjaya, and Philip Cheah during 'Classic Asian Films' public lecture as part of Jogja-Netpac Asian Film Festival (JAFF) 2018 at Jogja National Museum on Sunday (02/12). (Photo courtesy of Jogja-Netpac Asian Film Festival)

Come for the Hype, Stay for the Films: JAFF


DECEMBER 14, 2018

Yogyakarta/Jakarta. After 13 years, Jogja-Netpac Asian Film Festival, or JAFF, has become one of the few must-see film festivals in Indonesia and an important meeting point for filmmakers and film lovers not just from Indonesia, but also from across Asia.

As JAFF festival director Ifa Isfansyah pointed out, 60 percent of the people who come to JAFF every year are from outside Yogyakarta.

The Jakarta Globe arrived in Jogja to attend JAFF on Dec. 2, two days before the event ended, enough to try a little bit of everything.

Essentially, the festival lived up to what it promised to be: a place where filmmakers, critics and enthusiasts can meet each other to share their experience.

In many film premieres and festivals in Jakarta, there’s a palpable distance between the filmmakers and the rest (ie, journalists and fans).

JAFF threw away that sense of elitism and exclusivity.

We can talk freely with our favorite filmmakers after the post-screening Q&A session, or when they stand in line with the rest of us while waiting for the next screening.

There were some kinks that need to be ironed out at the festival, but here are a list of things we saw at JAFF this year which might give you some idea why this festival is always hotly anticipated.

The Talks

The first event we went to was a public lecture on "Classic Asian Films," featuring programmers Lisabona Rahman and Philip Cheah and academic Ekky Imanjaya, with Tito Imanda as moderator.

Joko Anwar was also scheduled to speak but could not make it because judging for the films in competition – he was one of the juries – took longer than expected.

The talk was held at Jogja National Museum, inside the hot and humid Pendopo Ajiyasa hall.

The seating arrangement for the audience at least was quite comfortable, with bean bags instead of chairs to sit on.

Unfortunately, the moderator seemed too lackluster to ask critical questions to the speakers and failed to keep the discussion on topic.

Was it just a plug for JAFF's "Layar Klasik" ("Classic Screens") program? Or a high-brow discussion on the importance of old films for today’s audience? Or a practical one on finding out how to access old films?

We walked away from the discussion none the wiser about what makes a "classic Asian film" and which films are deserving of the title.

Another talk we attended was titled "Critical Noise: Film Appreciation in the Digital Age," with critics Adrian Jonathan Pasaribu and Chris Fujiwara, and director Kamila Andini. Palari Films producer Meiske Taurisia moderated the discussion.

Adrian said that film criticism is never objective because everybody adheres to different standards and schools of thought, but one thing critics should do is not to get themselves caught up in the "arthouse" or "mainstream" divide, because those terms actually refer to the film's distribution, not quality.

Fujiwara said film criticism is "evaluation plus context" and that each review or critique should be a literary text in itself, one that is both poetic and complex.

Kamila meanwhile told the audience that she always looks for new readings of her film that can enrich her work as a filmmaker.

This talk was part of the Forum Komunitas (Community Forum) program, so the moderator also invited representatives of film communities to speak, including those from Watchmen ID, a film forum that has grown from a WhatsApp group into a blog and now a highly popular Twitter account.

Including to the collective, they now prefer to write Twitter threads instead of blog posts because the former generates way more hits.

The Movies

Most people go to film festivals to watch movies that are never going to be released in cinemas, consequently tickets are often sold out days or months in advance.

The solution is to buy early bird tickets online once the official schedule has been announced.

At JAFF this year, you were supposed to be able to buy tickets on the spot an hour before a screening, but in reality, they were often already sold out before the ticket booth had even opened.

This was a constant source of complaints for JAFF visitors, who often took to Instagram to show their displeasure.

Tickets for Garin Nugroho's new film, "Kucumbu Tubuh Indahku" ("Memories of My Body"), were indeed sold out before the ticket booth opened.

This happens because filmmakers often ask for freebies from festival organizers for their friends and crew,

Long lines for the more popular movies at JAFF were a common sight.

Hardier lots would put their names down on a waiting list. If they're lucky, they could still get "lesehan" tickets to sit on the floor of the theater.

Some of the films at JAFF had huge hype behind them. Here are some of the more interesting titles.

Garin's Kucumbu Tubuh Indahku won UNESCO's Cultural Diversity Award at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards (APSA) 2018 in Brisbane, Australia, just a few days before it was screened at JAFF.

The avant-garde director is also JAFF's "filmmaker of focus" this year, and ran for mayor in Yogyakarta two years ago. The long queues at the screening of his new film were only to be expected.

Less expected is the apparent popularity of short films.

A screening of Yosep Anggi Noen's new short, "Ballad of Blood and Two White Buckets," saw a full house.

Aditya Ahmad's "Kado" ("A Gift") and Ninndi Raras' "Elinah" also had a full house screening.

Kado won Best Short Film at Venice International Film Festival this year and also a Piala Citra at the Indonesian Film Festival (FFI) just a few days after JAFF.

The movie is about a gender-fluid high-school student navigating life as a teenager.

Ninndi's film meanwhile is about child marriage. Speaking after the screening, Ninndi said she took her inspiration from harrowing stories of child marriages in Indramayu.

Yuda Kurniawan's "Nyanyian Akar Rumput" ("The Song of Grassroots") is a full-length documentary about Fajar Merah, the musician son of the disappeared poet Wiji Thukul.

The film received rave applause at JAFF and eventually won a Netpac Award.

Fajar's band Merah Bercerita (sans Fajar who was recording a solo album) played at the film's premiere. So did her poet sister, Fitri Nganthi Wani, who had just released a new poetry collection.

The commercial tearjerker "Keluarga Cemara" and Golden Hanoman Award winner "27 Steps of May" also drew in big crowds at JAFF.

Apart from these Indonesian films, Japanese films such as Koji Fukada's "The Man From The Sea" and Hirokazu Koreeda's "Shoplifters," the Palme D'Or winner at Cannes Film Festival this year, also became the talk of the town.

These two films and other Japanese films were also screened to sold out audiences at Pekan Sinema Jepang (Japanese Cinema Week) this week in Jakarta.

Due to high demand, Kaninga Pictures will hold a special screening of The Man From the Sea, featuring the director and cast, on Monday.

Overall, JAFF was a fun experience. Come for the films (get your tickets early!), talk to your favorite filmmakers and see new films before anyone else (and some that may never get a commercial release in this country).